Thankful is Cool and Other Lessons

 

Turkey 2017

24 pounder smoked on our pellet grill.

We had a great Thanksgiving this year. Plans were changed, requiring the celebration to be at our house unexpectedly; but it worked out okay. We got the place cleaned, dishes prepped and cooked, and even the turkey (pictured here) turned out okay. I’ve prepared three Thanksgiving turkeys these last few years, and this year’s was by far the best. Oh, don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t the best turkey I’ve ever eaten, just the best one I’ve ever prepared (I think because of the brine and the herb butter under the skin). I’m finally getting the hang of the relationship between the pellet grill and that big ol’ bird. Although I do recommend grilling two smaller birds rather than one pterodactyl-sized bird; after brining and all the other stuff, the thing is almost as big as I am!

 

But what makes Thanksgiving a blessing rather than just a gathering are the people. It seems that more and more people are increasingly unthankful nowadays. Maybe they feel they have good reason to be, or are somehow entitled to live in a world of dark, stormy clouds. But this last Thursday, even amid such global ugliness, we were family together in one place at one time. We were thankful for each other, for the ability to have such an ample feast, and very thankful for our merciful God. And to top it all off, the rain stayed away as the turkey grilled in the corner of our deck under the branches of the leafless red maple tree.

The next day we had the great privilege of spending time with some good friends of ours.

Tree 2017

Our tree from Brooks Tree Farm.

They’re a couple we don’t get to spend too much time with. But on that day, we went together to cut down our Christmas trees. And once the trees were cut down, twined into easy-to-carry bundles and loaded into the back of our friend’s pick-up truck, we got a tour of the farm. The owners of the farm are members of our church and they were delighted to give us, including our eleven-year-old son, a tour of their facility. We got to see wreaths being made, trees being prepared to be shipped all over the world, including to Dubai (who knew they had Christmas trees there!). We saw the many large greenhouses where baby trees, called plugs, matured enough to be planted or shipped to nurseries. We saw all kinds of cool equipment as well.

 

After heading home and getting our trees set up and decorated (and eating a turkey lunch, of course), we reconvened and continued our day engaged in other activities. As the day came to a close, my family and I sat around our dining room table in flickering candle light and twinkly tree lights, feeling thankful that our last two days were spent with special people. We were also beginning to recognize that God was blessing us through the lives of others. We spent a lot of time with people that care for and love us as we care for and love them. Perhaps this is why there’s so much “unthankfulness” in this world, people don’t have meaningful relationships in their lives. Or maybe their hope, their future wishes, are based on flimsy philosophies or broken promises rather than on the God of the universe. Perhaps this helps me realize how important it is to be as much of an encouragement as I can to others. After all, Jesus did say:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
—John 13:34-35

Maybe if I take Jesus’s words seriously, I can help an unthankful person see even an inkling of something to be thankful for. And if nothing else, at least I won’t add to their reasons to be unthankful.

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Church Stew

There’s a misconception about church. Actually, there are several misconceptions; but today I want to deal with just one of them: church as the Great Melting Pot.

The United States was once referred to as a Great Melting pot. The idea became popularized by a 1908 play called The Melting Pot. The idea is one of blending a lot of different cultures into one, unified society; hence, the United States. However, the metaphor is also a referent to a fondue. A fondue is basically a handful of chesses thrown into a pot that is slowly brought to a high temperature to melt the diverse cheeses into one, homogenous goo. Done correctly, the cheese will be supple and silky, perfect for dipping vegetables, meats, breads and other food items to coat them in the unctuous goodness. If done incorrectly, it will seize up into a hard ball of cheesy grossness. But the basic premise is taking diverse elements and converting them into an indistinguishable new element.

Granted, it may be seen as taking separate elements and unifying them, which is not always a bad idea; but it can also be viewed as wiping out the unique aspects of each element in an effort to distill them down into some other pre-subscribed form. In other words, taking a unique aspect and forcing it to become something it is not to fit a specific, pre-conceived mold.

The Assumption

Church is often viewed in this fashion; as a melting pot requiring unique individuals to become something they are not. As McIntosh and McMahan state, “Scripture does not support an ethnic or cultural exclusivism that retreats into an inwardly focused, self-serving existence” (Being the Church in a Multi-Ethnic Community: Why it Matters and How it Works, 2012, p. 179). The erroneous assumption is based on the false premise that typical church leadership wants all the congregants to be like them, whatever the “them” is. As one of the leaders in our church, I pity the person that’s like me because I know better than anyone the rough edges and character flaws the Lord is still working with me on. Yes, I’m still a work in progress even in my mid-fifties!

Scripture shows a different picture, however. Here’s an ultimate expression of church, it is a church engaged in worship. Check this out:

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

—Revelation 7:9-10

Wow! What a thrilling scene. It’s astounding for many reasons. First, all cultures, nations and languages are represented. Second, it appears that all present can understand the different languages. Third, all the different languages apparently bring a melodious harmony fitting for worship around the throne of God. And, fourth, the focus of worship is Jesus.

It’s Stew

That’s not a melting pot, ladies and gentlemen, that is a stew! Think about the best stew you ever ate. A carrot is still a carrot, an onion an onion, and a potato a potato; but they blend together not in a homogenous, indistinguishable goo; but into a flavorful expression of culinary goodness. Each element is easily distinguishable but is also a vital ingredient that, along with the other ingredients, contributes to a whole that surpasses anything each ingredient could do on its own.

So a church is community coming together with all of its faults, foibles and failures. We all bring our brokenness with us. But we also bring all of our uniqueness with us; all of that unique, individual beauty and gifting that God purposed for us even before our conception (see Psalm 139:13-16). God takes all our brokenness and all of our beauty and giftedness to build our communities into a stew where each element is easily distinguishable, but able to be so much more when paired together with others’ brokenness and beauty. Church isn’t perfect, but it also isn’t a homogenous goo of bland nothingness. It is instead a flavorful expression of God’s grace, mercy, patience and love for humanity.